Have eating fears? Don’t worry super dog is here! (The image has not been altered; this picture was taken while en route to rescue a picky eater.)
Meet Abby, my amazing blue heeler! My clients and mother-in-law call her, a “healer”. Abby is a working dog by breed and she is definitely a working dog at my clinic. She literally “will work for food”. ☺ Let me tell you a few ways Abby assists my pediatric clients with feeding challenges:
1. Teaching Crunching
Abby teaches my clients how to use their back molars for eating and chewing foods. Some of my picky eaters will only nibble on foods with their front teeth instead of properly placing larger pieces of food in their mouths and using a rotary chewing pattern. When we are trying to learn about a new food, we share that food with Abby so that she can help teach the art of crunching! I’ll say: “Okay, Abby you can have this carrot, please use your back teeth-I want to hear loud crunching, Abby!” Of course, Abby is happy to oblige. She is a fabulous cruncher! The kids LOVE it! And they enthusiastically model it!
2. Teaching Licking
Abby encourages our kiddos to lick foods. Some of my clients do not have the best coordination of their tongue, which complicates their eating and limits their food selection. Abby is happy to demonstrate licking from a spoon, from an ice cream cone or even from a cute little finger! This is fantastic help because a lot of my kids are afraid of utensils, fearful of cold foods and won’t allow food on their fingers or hands. They love feeding Abby and slowly they learn that a spoon is not so scary, ice cream is yummy and foods on fingers feel weird but fun!
3. Trying New Foods
Abby is ever so willing to try new foods. Kids will ask me: “My mom brought bell peppers today for me to try. Can you ask Abby if she likes bell peppers?” Of course I ask Abby, and she barks “yes!” and off we go on our bell pepper exploration!
Abby also texts! Yes, she sure does! It started with a mom texting me from a restaurant asking me if Abby could help her son who was having a meltdown at a restaurant and wanted Abby. Of course, Abby put on her red cape (yes, we are those type of dog-people that play dress up) and was off to the rescue! After a minute of “talking” with Abby through a video chat, he sat calmly and ate pizza for the first time! Amazing right?! After that, Abby started sending texts to kids who were trying a new food. For example, she has sent a picture of her next to a board that reads: “I love tacos too!” The parents later told me their child ate tacos for the first time after seeing that message from Abby. My clients adore getting texts and pictures from Abby supporting their efforts in trying new foods!
4. Teaching Trust
At times, my clients need a dose of courage or some extra motivation during the therapy session. Abby is there to do tricks and even sit in the chair next to them to encourage them to stay at the table just a little bit longer. Sometimes a child just needs a hug or a high five. Abby is happy to do both… for a treat of course!
Abby has even attended birthday parties for some of my clients. Having a party with foods they are nervous about can make a child feel worried. Abby has been there to rescue kids from being anxious about eating their special birthday cake. She has even taught the whole party how to lick frosting off of the cake! Are there ways that you use your family pet to help encourage your picky eater?